We meet at the Indian Oil Corporation’s headquarters in Bandra. The ID card slung around his neck and the crisp formals tell you that 41-year-old Anand Neelakantan is an executive at a corporate giant. However, what sets this unassuming man apart is his highly successful career as an author of mythological fiction. Neelakantan’s bestselling debut novel, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished (2012), turned Ramayana on its head. Was the 10-headed demon, Ravana, really evil as we’re led to believe? Was Lord Rama divine? In his book, Neelakantan questions our age-old notions and depicts Ravana as an ambitious person oppressed by the system. Then, in Roll of the Dice (2013), part one of the Ajaya series, he re-tells the events leading up to the Mahabharata war, from the Kauravas’ point of view. Now, in the second and final part, Rise of Kali, he takes the story ahead from Duryodhana's perspective.

    You’ve said you were fascinated by mythology while growing up. How did epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana shape your childhood?
    Bards would often visit my village, Thripunithura (near Cochin, Kerala). We looked forward to their oral retellings of all the Puranas. It was a major source of entertainment.

    You’re drawn to anti-heroes. Why do you choose to write their side of the story?
    They appear more human. It was easy to identify with Ravana because, like most people, he has a lot of flaws. Rama is an ideal. One is a god, the other is a man. This is the case with Yudhisthira and Duryodhana too. 

    In Rise of Kali, you voiced some of your own misgivings about the Bhagvad Gita.
    I’ve expressed some of my doubts through Arjuna’s and Balrama’s. For instance, Balrama asks Krishna, “If Duryodhan is evil, why not kill only him? Why create a war?” Krishna doesn’t have a convincing answer to that.

    How do you go about researching for your novels?
    I speak to people from back home who keep the oral tradition alive. They have different takes on some of the smaller aspects in the same story. Then, I refer to a Puranic encyclopedia written a hundred years ago in Malayalam. It has a whole list of characters, in alphabetical order, and their stories. It’s quite phenomenal.

    How do you re-imagine a scene that’s been written about endlessly and read with reverence?
    When I sit down to write, I get into the skin of the characters. It’s like an actor playing his part. That kind of schizophrenia is required for a writer. For instance, I might have prayed half an hour ago, but Krishna is not a god when I start writing.

    What’s next?
    I am working on a young adult book series about the age old story of Kacha-Devayani (story of how Kacha, from the Deva clan and Devayani, daughter of Asura guru Shukracharya, fall in love). My daughter, who is nearly 13, is a big fan of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. She finds Indian mythology boring, which is very offensive to me (laughs). So, I'm writing this fantasy love story for her.

    Rise of Kali by Anand Neelakantan is out now.
    Price: Rs 399 (Leadstart Publishing)

Pune varsity to offer postgraduate course in aviation

  • PTI, Pune
  • |
  • Updated: Jul 27, 2013 10:34 IST
University of Pune (UOP) has signed a memorandum of understanding with a Germany-based pilot training and flight institute to offer a two-year postgraduate course in aviation starting September 1.

The course, which will award M.Tech (Aviation) degree for students with eligibility of BE or B.Tech, envisages on site aviation training at the institute's facility in Germany for three semesters in addition to a six month study at the UOP's department of technology.
The students returning to India after their on site training at the flight school in Germany, FFL, will be asked to undergo tests by Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to secure an Indian flying license. Talks with DGCA on the proposal were in progress, said Vice chancellor of UOP Vasudeo Gade.
The degree would also entitle the students to apply for a European flying license on approval from the German aviation regulator, he added.
Representatives of FFL including its chief executive officer Ulrich Langenecker were present on the occasion of signing of the MoU at UOP, who noted that the demand for trained pilots would increase considerably in view of the growing aviation industry, adding that the onsite training of UOP students in Germany will also involve soft skills, ground studies and team building activities.
In order to facilitate visas and work permits for the aspiring UOP students, the FFL has approached the German embassy in New Delhi to provide earning opportunities for them while pursuing their studies in Germany, the officials said.
Gade said the new M.Tech course will not only involve pilot training but also the engineering aspects to facilitate job opportunities in flying as well as ground engineering and allied services.
The UOP's affiliation with FFL will add a new dimension to the university's future vision, he said, adding the students will be undergoing an extensive 800 hours of flying exercises and will provide a trained manpower to the country's aviation industry.
The two-year course will have an estimated fees amounting to 70,000 euro, approximately Rs 55 lakh, in addition to the expenses on account stay in Germany.

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